Yet another change in itinerary... If there is one thing that Cathy and I are discovering, its that quality matters much more than quantity. And as we leave Washington State, we find ourselves running short again on time. We have planned to meet Cathy's parents in South Dakota on the 22nd. So we are going to remove Glacier and Waterton Lakes from our itinerary, but still hit our Wyoming destinations. Changes have been noted on the itinerary page.
The rig got outfitted with new tires in Seattle. These tires are much knobbier than the last set of tires I had, but I hear no increase in road noise. Of course, the road noise is already pretty outrageous with the rack and all.Check out www.journeyamerica.com (now dead, check http://www.offenburger.com/journeyamerica/) which will chronicle Matt and Andrew's adventures. It sounds really cool! Here is what Andrew has to say about his website:
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July 27-28 - Seattle bound! We spent a nice night in the Capitol State Forest campground on July 27th. The campground was very nice and FREE, as most of them should be. If you've read any of my previous reports, no doubt you've seen me complain about campground costs. I think it is time that I address this issue in full. One thing I just have yet to figure out is how the local and national governments think they can charge so much for a stay in a campground. Most National Forest Campgrounds cost $8 a night, basically for a place to park your car, a tent pad, a picnic bench, water, a garbage can, and a hole in the ground (deposit only, no returns!). The cost of maintaining such a campground cannot be anywhere near $8 a night. I could understand a fee for RV hookups, flush toilets, and hot showers... but the only consistent fees the compgrounds should have to deal with are garbage pickup and outhouse sewage pumping. Certainly the cost of maintaining those free rest areas off of the interstate is much higher. They've got sprinkler systems to maintain, flush toilets, cleanup crews, etc... So why do campgrounds charge so much? I can't figure it out. I also can't figure out why anyone would stay in a National Forest campground, except to be near other people and have a smelly outhouse nearby. Head up nearly ANY National Forest Service Road, skip the campgrounds, and 99% of the time, you are bound to find free "dispersed" camping up the road... sites off to the side of roads or down some of the dirt side roads. Bring your own chair, table, and portable toilet (or better yet, dig a hole), and you will save yourself a fortune on a long trip. If you are in a warm area of the country, bring a solar shower and save on that too! Washington State is the only state where they seem to have their head screwed on straight... Free camping in any of their State Forest campgrounds with the basics (outhouse and trash cans). We now drive about fairly content that we can stay anywhere we need to for free thanks to the rig, whether it be dispersed camping on a forest service road, a pulloff on a gravel road less traveled, a hotel lot, or a truck stop.
After our night in the State Forest, Cathy and I headed into Seattle. Cathy had arranged to spend 5 days with her friends in Seattle, so I dropped her off and headed out to the airport to pick up my mum. I'm definitely a moma's boy... heck, I enjoy spending time with my mom... and I feel very fortunate I can say that... so it was great to see her. I met her at the gate and we were off to do some sightseeing in Seattle. Our first stop was the number one tourist trap in Seattle, Pike's Place Market. Actually, it sure seemed to be more than a tourist trap because you could pick up lots of fresh fruit and flowers at the outdoor market. There were some great restaurants there too. We feasted on fried seafood and a fantastic salmon soup. Wish I could remember the name of the place because it was fantastic! We also picked up some delicious Mt. Ranier cherries (not to be missed!).
We then stopped at what has become my mecca for outdoor gear, REI (Recreational Equipment Incorporated). REI is headquartered out of Seattle and is a tres-cool company... a co-op to be exact. We hit the flagship store and spent too much time and money there oogling at the huge climbing wall, mountain bike test trail, boot test hiking trail, arboretum, rain gear test room, and the simply huge complex with espresso stand and all. They even have a National Park Service and Forest Service info desk with rangers to answer any questions you have about areas you plan on travelling to. Cathy and I stopped again at REI our way out of the Pacific Northwest and walked in with some broken gear and walked out with it fixed/replaced for free. (Nearly everything they sell has a lifetime warranty.) Great customer service, great company... We were impressed.
July 28th - 29th - My mom and I left in the heat of rush hour out to Mt. Rainier. We arrived about 20 miles outside of the park border as the sun was setting. We hit a small bed and breakfast with a very friendly inn keeper. This was my first "hotel" stay of the entire trip and it was nice to sleep in a bed and have a shower. Ahh... the little things.
The next day, we were rewarded with fantastic weather, fantastic views, and a line of bikes along all of the roads. These cyclists were riding in the RAMROD (Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day), some 150 miles. I can hardly imagine doing a century (100 miles)! Thanks to the unusually high snowfall this year (250% above normal), most of the trails were impassible without flotation (snow shoes or cross country skis). However, we did manage to find a fantastic hike in the Longmire area up on Rampart Ridge which provided wonderful views of Mt. Rainier, a bit of a workout, and a little excursion on the Wonderland Trail to return to Longmire. I hope to return to do the Wonderland Trail (circling the mountain in 93 miles) one of these years. Mount Rainier is a fantastic site to behold and shows, once again, the power of the earth and its volcanos. Mount Rainier is an active volcano and is bound to erupt at some point within the next million years or so. When it does, the devastaion will be much more severe than Mt. St. Helens thanks to nearby developed areas that would be hit by mudflows. Mount Rainier, at 14,400 feet above sea level, completely dwarfs the surrounding peaks which lie at about 7000 ft above sea level. This is why the mountain is probably the most recognized landmark in the Pacific Northwest. Fly or drive into Seattle from the South and you simply can't miss it. A very magical mountain.
July 30th - August 1st - On a recommendation from my old manager at Sterling Commerce, we decided to have breakfast the Salish Lodge overlooking Snoqualmie Falls. He said the breakfast was not to be missed, but the rooms were murder. Yes, at $189 for a night, the rooms were indeed murder, but if the rooms were murder, the breakfast was homocide at $25 per plate. The portions were generous, but I didn't find anything spectacular about the food or their "world famous pancakes." I'd rather spend $2 for a Waffle House waffle (a diner chain in the Southeast). The lodge sits at the top of the falls so all you can actually see is the mist off of the falls. The falls themselves were nice, but the hydro-electric power station within the view kind of detracted from the scenery. It was still neat to see, and we have no regrets, but I wouldn't stop there again if I'm in the area.
We continued on to the North Cascades and Ross Lake National Recreation Area. The people who names these peaks must have been in some kind of clinical depression, with names like Mt. Terror, Damnation Creek, Mt. Fury, Mt. Despair, Forbidden Peak, and Deception Pass, you have to wonder what was going through their heads! These were the most rugged mountains I think I've ever seen and almost impenetrable... very few roads into the mountains. It was also easy to see why they call these mountains "The Cascades." There are cascades everywhere trickling down the mountains. Some form fantastic wateralls. If you simply drive down the roads with your windows down, you will be startled every now and then by the sound of rushing water outside your window as you rush past yet another cascade... and many of them are photo-worthy. After a short walk by Thunder Creek, we camped near the visitor's center. My mom and I started a nice campfire, had a fantastic fresh sole dinner, and ate smores by the fire before turning in.
We awoke to another beautiful day. Again, the unusually high snowfall for the year kept us out of the high country, but we found a nice hike called the Diablo Lake Trail. We took a ferry run by the power company from one trailhead to the other so we wouldn't have to backtrack. "Power company" you may ask? Yep... they've got about three dams on Skagit River creating the lakes that cut through the middle of the park. They've also got small towns and residences in the middle of the National Recreation Area to support the power company, Seattle City Light. My mother didn't like the powerlines obscuring the views, but I really didn't mind. We are all guilty of power consumption... and at least this was a clean way to create power. I understand that nearly one third of Seattle's power is hydroelectric. Our hike allowed us some great views of the surrounding peaks and the lake below. Afterwards we headed into the nearby national forest for some fantastic views of Mount Baker, yet another volcanic peak. Afterwards, we headed back into Seattle, stopped to pick up Cathy for a dinner out on the town, and headed off to the airport hotel to drop my mom off.
The following day, my mom woke up at the crack of dawn to hop on her plane back to Atlanta. Suzy the Isuzu desperately needed some new tires. The ones she had were almost bald, and considering that we were heading into a rainforest, I didn't think bald tires were a good idea. After an afternoon dealing with the car, I picked Cathy up and we were off to the Olympic Peninsula. We once again managed to hit Seattle weekend traffic on the way out of town. There was a pretty bad wreck and in typical fashion, every driver wanted a good look at it. Ahhh... rubberneckers. They could stop so many of these types of traffic problems by putting up a huge curtain so you can't see it... or maybe a huge TV before the wreck with images of what the scene looks like. I hate traffic caused rubberneckers! Anyhow, we stopped for another night in that same wonderful Capitol State Forest campground before heading into Olympic National Park.
August 2-3 - We spent a good portion of our day driving into and around Olympic National Park. Olympic National Park is essentially divided into two distinct (and somewhat distant sections): the beach and the mountains. They are separated by both national forest lands and private logging company lands. It is an odd combination. In between them, thanks to the logging companies, you have these ugly clearcuts. You also have to essentially exit the park to get to another park entrance so there is no continuity to the park whatsoever. The pretty drives really aren't there as far as I could tell. On the other hand, we missed significant sections of the park including anything along the North and Northeast . Along the beach you have some beautiful, rocky coastline to hike a a few boardwalked trails through the thick maritime rainforest. In the mountains, you have more rainforest and volcanic mountains with snow capped peaks. It was unfortunate that we never really go the chance to get a good view of Mount Olympus, the centerpiece of the park. Once again, the unusually high snowfall kept us out of most of the high mountainous areas. But we did have a nice short hike in the Hoh Rainforest. There were large trees in the Hoh, but they didn't speak to me quite like the ones in Muir Woods or Cumberland Island. But the thick canopy and beautiful moss was nice. After our hike, we lucked out and found yet another free Washington State Campsite along the road out of Hoh.
The following morning, we headed to the beach for a 9 mile hike. The hike forms a triangle... starts at the Ozette Ranger Station, 3 miles out to the beach on narrow boardwalk through the rainforest, 3 miles along the beach, and 3 miles back to Ozette, again on boardwalk through the rainforest. The hike was very nice and we got to experience our first rocky coast. We saw sea lions playing just off of the shore and enjoyed some great views of the rocky islands just off of the coast. Unfortunately, I managed to forget my camera on this one. After our hike, we went into Port Angeles and actually got a hotel room... for the first time on the trip, we actually slept in a hotel room. We reasoned we would sleep well, wake up early, and hit the 8am ferry over to Vancouver Island. At about 10am after a restless night, we left the hotel bound for the ferry. Ooops. Our vehicle missed the 12pm ferry by two cars! It was very disappointing, but we hit Dairy Queen for a banna split to quell any bad feelings we had. We also walked about the fairly boring town of Port Angeles, having to leave our car parked in line for the ferry, and caught the 4pm ferry.
August 3-6 - We arrived in Victoria, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada I seem to carry some fears whenever I entering a foreign country, and although Canada is barely foreign, those fears went with me on the ferry. First of all, Americans are not viewed popularly in many foreign countries. I think this is partly because Americans walk about with some kind of attitude like the USA is the greatest country in the world. If you went around telling your friends that you were the greatest person in the world, soon you wouldn't have many friends. The USA is yet another democratic country. To many foreigners, the USA no better than their country and this attitude damages our image. So I walk into many of these countries feeling pre-labeled. I was to find out that Canada pretty much considers itself blood brothers with the USA. And I guess if foreigners have feelings towards America, Canada is generally included. Another reason I had some trepidation was "money." Granted, at the time, the exchange rate was 60 US cents to the Canadian Dollar... very much in our favor. Nonetheless, you have to get Canadian currency and deal with all of the exchange issues. And since they called their currency dollars, I often forgot to convert and realize that everything was really cheaper. I also wondered if we'd have a problem finding places to park and sleep for the night. We wondered what the heck we were going to do when we got there. Then there was the language barrier... well, not really in the part of Canada we were in. They haven't converted to French just yet. So? They just pronounce words a little funny! The word "about" is pronounced "aboot", and they end everything in "ya know?" or "are ya now?" etc... Anyhow, my worries weren't really justified, but they were there. I turned into a little stress ball for a bit while I figured out how things work in Canada and what we were going to once we got there.
During our stay in Port Angeles, we did manage to get to figure out some stuff. Cathy mentioned the West Coast Trail (WCT) in Canada's Pacific Rim National Park. Most of the information we read seemed to imply you needed an advance reservation to even get on the trail... and it was pricey... even with the US conversion. But we figured we'd head to the park where it starts and see if we could get a spot on the trail. What the heck? And if they didn't have a spot, we figured we could enjoy the nearby provincial parks. Well, lo and behold, we did manage to get onto the trail, as they keep 6 spots open per day. Our start date was August 6th, the day after we arrived at the Port Renfrew Ranger station. Our trip plan called for 5 nights in the Canadian shoreline wilderness and was to cover 47 miles one way with a shuttle back to the car at the end of the journey. And, yet once again, my stress level began to build, and with pretty good reason.
We learned that this trail was world famous for being one of the most difficult trails in the world. The trail is literally world renown, and we heard numerous foreign languages along the trail... the main one being German. We received our orientation the day prior to our start and were told we would fall and slip at least three times (Cathy only had two legitimate falls and I didn't have any). The orientation said this should NOT be your first, second, third, fourth, or fifth backpacking expedition and that injuries can be expected and are common. Nice confidence builder, eh? The trip was like a hiker's amusement park, complete with roller coaster, skylift, and water/mudslides. There are no long climbs, no long descents; instead, the climbs and descents are extremely short, extremely steep, and extremely wet and slick. Some are so steep, we get to climb up and down to platforms via ladders... just like an elaborate tree house! There are a total of 50 ladders all together, and that doesn't include some of the ladders that we used on spur trails to get to campsites or the beach. Some of the ravines punge to streams below and some of the streams so wide and deep, they have cable cars or narrow suspension bridges which are needed to cross them. Loads of fun! Except with 40 pounds on our backs, the ladders aren't as much fun and even the cable cars get tedious, but it was still a fantastic time!
Prepping for the trail also added to my stress. The cost was pretty extravagant. It cost us nearly $200 Canadian to get on the trail. We also had to arrange for transport back to the car (another $80 Canadian), and pay $2 a day to park our vehicle. And phone calls out of the country were rediculously expensive. My cell phone was 75 cents (US) a minute, and my calling card was nearly $1.50 a minute. Ouch! (My friend Mark works for the Tracker School, but is from Ladysmith on Vancouver Island and I found that he was going to be on vacation AND on Vancouver Island visiting home or a bit. What luck, I thought! I left a message and hoped I could get in touch with him before we hit the trail. No such luck... We were so rushed the morning of our trail departure, I had no time to try him again. And it turns out I just missed him on both ends of the trip. He arrived in Ladysmith just after we hit the trail, and left the morning we got off of the trail. Oh well... As soon as we hit the trail, my stress disappeared... it was good to be back on the trail again.
August 6-12 - Day one out of Port Renfrew is said to be the most difficult of all the days. It starts with a brief ferry ride. The trail then goes straight into rain forest, up over mud, slick tree roots, and ladders. We started up the trail, passing the 75 km mark, at a snails pace. The funny thing was, it didn't feel like a snails pace. I guess the ups and downs really got to us. We looked at our watch at the Thrasher Cove Campground trail junction and figured we could time the tides, hit the beach, and walk to Camper Creek. We were wrong. By the time we hit Thrasher (km 70), it was low tide... too late to take the beach and get past Owen Point according to the information we had in our map. And we were too tired to head back up to the trail. We decided to kick back for the afternoon and bask in the sun or lack thereof. Meanwhile, some crows settled on a branch over my head and yes.. the inevitable happened. What a great way to end the day... washing crow crap out of my shirt!
The next day, we did actually have the chance to make it out to Owen Point and time the tides properly. It was a good thing that we didn't try for it the previous day. The route was difficult and required climbing (not hiking) over numerous boulders. Apparently this section of trail is as difficult on the beach as it is on the trail. But it was so worth it. The most beautiful scenery of our entire hike was at Owen Point. Sea caves, smooth sandstone crevasses, and some beautiful rocks. It was definitely a high point of the trip and shouldn't be missed by anyone hiking the trail. You might have to wait for the tides, but the wait is worth it. We had to do a little bit of wading even though we managed to hit low tide. We hit Camper (km 62) and Cathy built up a nice campfire and proceded to change her undergarments. Next time I looked over at the fire, Cathy was dangling her panties on a stick over the fire. To lighten her pack a few ounces I guess... :-)
The previous night, hikers had warned us about this day. Seems that this section of the trail has the highest concentration of ravines and ladders. Lots of ups and down. I was starting to get concerned about the length of time we were taking. We seemed to be moving nowhere fast. Only 14 km (8.7 mi) or after two days... I also was afraid we might run out of food until I looked at our food stash. We were going to be ok, but Cathy and I were still determined to make it to Walbran Creek. We didn't want to take over 7 days to do the trail. We stopped at Cullite Creek for lunch... a beautiful cove. Cathy kicked back on the rocks while I cooked up lunch. I thought I heard a thunder clasp and thought that our grey skies would finally put out some rain. Now I've only been to sandy beaches before, but Cullite Cove was different. It was a rocky beach. The "thunder" I heard was nothing more than the surf pushing rocks around. This was the be my first realization of the wonderful sounds you can hear along this trail. From the unusual caws and calls of the crows, to the horns of the lighthouses and "moans" of the bobbing bouys, the trickle of a creek, the sounds of bull kelp popping underfoot, the roar of the ocean hitting the rocks versus the ocean on a sandy beach... the trail is full of fantastic sounds! Those sounds and the ladders/platforms we had to deal with that day... it reminded me of the best selling computer game of all time, Myst. The world just seemed surreal. We did eventually arrive at Walbran, set up camp, cooked up yet another pasta dinner, and drifted off to sleep with the sounds of the surf in the background.
With the majority of the hard stuff out of the way, we headed out the following day along the beach. This day, most of our route took us over beach... relatively easy flat walking for a change. Those first three days made me feel like I was on a football team, forced to do that drill they do... moving their feet in and out of football tires to improve foot dexterity... as if every step had to be watched closely... and it did! Beach walking... finally a reprieve from the warden... oh... and did I mention? They call their Park Rangers here Park Wardens... as if we are prisoners or something. But I digress... Our walk on the beach was a wonderful change of scenery and we got to see and walk by some some amazing things like rocky sandstone and shale beaches, sheer sandstone cliffs, and tidal pools. These tidal pools were filled with life... bright green sea anemones, black muscles, funny little crabs scurrying about in the trapped ocean waters. We also came upon our first contact with civilization... of sorts.
The WCT passes through a few parcels of non-public land. The first place where this occurs is on one of the Ditiwaht Indian (or First Nation as they are called in Canda) parcels of land. Our first encounter with "civilization" was with Chez Monique, a hamburger stand run by a lady named Monique who married a full blodded Ditiwaht Indian. As we approached, I sat there thinking about how nice it would be to sit in a chair again. Cathy laughed at me when I said "I like chairs..." Ahhh... the simple things. I had a nice, albeit, fairly impersonal chat with her son-in-law and was glad to hear that we were halfway done with the trail timewise. Of course we had a long way to go distance-wise, but the trail gets "easy." That put my mind to rest and I really enjoyed the rest of the trip. He also mentioned how the park service was giving him a hard time. Cathy recalled sitting there during orientation when someone asked about Chez Monique. The Parks Canada representative said "Oh, we don't like to mention that." Boy oh boy, there are some politics going on at this park. I was to learn more later, but suffice it to say, these little hamburger stands along the way don't get along very well with Parks Canada.
Our next stop was the Carmana Lighthouse. Apparently each lighthouse along the coast blurts out it's own set of tones on a horn. In do-re-mi style, this horn blurted out a low la fa (6 4). We could hear the Carmana lighthouse even at Chez Monique. Past experience proves that this shore is trecherous. On our map alone, 30 large ships that shipwrecked are mentioned. There must have been literally hundreds of ships that have wrecked upon the rocky coast here. The lighthouse, I guess, was and is a necessity... but I know I wouldn't be piloting a boat in these waters without a really good chart and GPS. The mist, I'm sure, would soak up a good bit of both the lighthouse's light and horn. In either case, the lighthouse grounds were extremely well kept by the lightkeepers. They had a walkable labyrinth formed out of the grass set up just outside one of the residences and a wonderful garden too. We walked the labyrinth to the center, but cheated on the way out. For those of you who haven't walked a labyrinth, it is an ancient tool of meditation and can be found in many churches. I think theirs was designed like the one in the Chartres Cathedral in France. You simply walk the path of the labyrinth slowly and let yourself relax. It is a fantastic experience, if you aren't rushed. We took a look at the garden and were greeted by the lightkeeper's wife who told us to pick as many raspberries as we could. And pick away we did! Fresh fruit after days of pasta! It was great.
The following day, I got out of the tent early leaving Cathy to her dreams. We had camped at the 37 k marker (Cheewat). We got our second dose of civilization here. Yet another hamburger stand called the 37k Club. I went over to talk with John, the owner, and we spent a good hour yackin' about everything ranging from Canadian politics, American politics, Canadian-American relations, and most importantly, Parks Canada the state of the West Coast Trail (WCT). The 37k Club was John's dream... he purchased this little piece of property from a landowner who said that Parks Canada wouldn't put funds to match the government appraisal of the land. So instead, John purchased it and proceeded about his dream: "Helping" hikers in some respects and scratching by on his hamburger stand business. A number of events have occurred and are occurring which will eventually drive him off of his land. Basically, Parks Canada, with the help of other government agencies, has made his life miserable. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to get the other side of the story from Parks Canada, but the most of the Canadians I talked to didn't have good things to say about Parks Canada or park management... mired up in regulations and politics. Aparently, the Pacific Rim National Park isn't really a park at all but a proposed park. Clear cutting is supposedly still going on in park land just outside of the WCT corridor and is supposedly apparent from the number of tree blowdowns. I don't know enough about forestry to comment, but seeing some of the clearcuts on our ride back to Port Renfrew from Bamfield (trail's end), I don't doubt it. They seem to cut mercilessly on Vancouver Island... not so different from the Pacific Northwest though. Anyhow, I've digressed again. Suffice it to say, John had lots of negative things to say about Parks Canada. I just wish Parks Canada would at least acknowledge that these businesses exist. I understand that they might be trying to protect the "wilderness experience," but Chez Monique, at least, isn't going anywhere for the time being. That business is there to stay. And with Parks Canada not notifying hikers about the hamburger stands, they are doing their customers, the hikers, a disservice. We certainly would have brought more money on the trail had we known they existed. Instead, I walked out with a bad taste in our mouth about Parks Canada. They simply aren't handling the situation properly.
In any case, we left the 37k Club and hit our next ferry crossing at the Nitnat Narrows. The rest of the trail was fairly easy and included some wonderful beach scenery. We arrived at Bamfield a day later than I expected, but at least we arrived by foot instead of by medivac! That day, we managed to catch our ride back into Port Renfrew. We left for Victoria and caught the 9pm BC Ferry to Vancouver. (This ferry was much nicer than Port Angeles and about the same price.) Upon arriving, we hit the road and slept in the rig at a truck stop before heading into Seattle the next day.
August 13-14 - Errands in Seattle. I sorely needed a haircut, an oil change, and another stop at the REI mecca. We found a haircut place outside of a mall and I got my hair chopped. The stylist mentioned that summer was over in WA State. I asked her what she meant. She said that the grey skies had returned and they they might not see the sun again until next summer. Ouch! The Pacific Northwest is very nice, but that rainy weather would get on my nerves. We stopped for the night in a National Forest outside of Seattle, both exhausted from shopping and dealing with Seattle traffic. The next few days were spent on the road. One stop of interest was a National Forest recreation site devoted to the history of the Oregon Trail. Wagon HO! We ran into this poor woman who had been on the Oregon Trail since 1854. She said she was waitin' for her husband, Elijah, to return with a run-a-way mare. We wished her luck as we continued down the road...
Oddities From the Road
Cathy turns 30! Idaho and the Dakotas...
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